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Town hope to welcome some fans back next week as supporters return to EFL games

16 September, 2020 - 17:19
Ipswich Town fans will have to wait a bit longer to return to Portman Road Picture: STEVE WALLER

Ipswich Town fans will have to wait a bit longer to return to Portman Road Picture: STEVE WALLER

Steve Waller

Fans will return to English football this weekend - and Ipswich Town hope to welcome supporters back before the end of this month.

There are cardboard cutouts of fans at Portman Road for the time being Picture: STEVE WALLERThere are cardboard cutouts of fans at Portman Road for the time being Picture: STEVE WALLER

The EFL has confirmed 10 clubs - three in the Championship, four in League One and three in League Two - will be permitted to admit up to 1,000 spectators as part of the ongoing ‘return of fans’ pilot programme.

The move follows a successful pilot at Cambridge United last week, which saw 862 fans watch the action at the Abbey Stadium.

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The games which will feature fans are Norwich v Preston and Middlesbrough v Bournemouth in the Championship, Charlton v Doncaster, Blackpool v Swindon, Shrewsbury v Northampton and Hull v Crewe in League One and Forest Green v Bradford, Carlisle v Southend and Morecambe v Cambridge in League Two.

Luton v Derby was originally given the green light for fans too, but the Hatters say there’s not enough notice to organise the return of supporters.

Ipswich Town are targeting the Saturday, September 26 Portman Road clash with Rochdale as their test event, and hope to be able to welcome fans back then - although that is yet to be confirmed.

EFL clubs are still hoping that supporters will be able to return more widely from October 1, but the government is reviewing that date after a spike in coronavirus cases.

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EFL chairman Rick Parry said: “It’s encouraging that we are in a position to move forward with the next phase of the pilot programme and give a small number of our clubs the opportunity to welcome back up to 1,000 fans this week.

“The health and wellbeing of supporters and their wider communities remains the priority, but as we showed at Cambridge, social distancing can be applied safely. By extending across more EFL clubs we hope to further demonstrate that the measures developed can allow fans to return in greater numbers from as early as next month.

“The requirement to welcome spectators back through turnstiles has not diminished in any way, the financial challenges facing EFL clubs have been explained on numerous occasions, they are substantial and a problem that requires immediate solutions.”

It is understood clubs situated in communities which are currently under local lockdowns were excluded from applying to be part of the pilot matches.

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, said: “I know that many fans are eager to return to football and that jobs depend on this too, so fans will welcome news that the EFL will be running number-capped, Covid-secure and socially-distanced pilots this weekend.

“This will help us build the evidence base to see how we can return fans safely in greater numbers as soon as it is safe to do so.”

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In a club statement, Luton said: “To stage a game with supporters here would take a lot of preparation time, and unfortunately, despite asking again from very early this morning, we had heard nothing from the League until a few minutes before they issued their statement stating that we were one of the clubs taking part.

“Sadly, this does not give us enough time to get ready so we are unable to host spectators here for the Derby match.

“We understand that the EFL are beholden to DCMS, but to request clubs to offer and then not back up quickly, knowing there is such little time to prepare, is very disappointing and we are sorry to disappoint supporters who may have raised hopes of attending Saturday’s match.”


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